Achievement First Inc. New Haven charter money grab tabled

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Public opposition to another privately run, publicly funded charter school in New Haven has led to the City’s pro-charter superintendent of schools withdrawing his plan to turn over even more scarce public funds to Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

As reported in an article entitled, Charter Deal Tabled, the New Haven Independent writes;

“Elm City Imagine” died Wednesday—at least the version that would have had New Haven’s Board of Ed entering into a partnership this year with the Achievement First charter network on a new school.

Superintendent Garth Harries announced, through a memo sent to Board of Education members, that he has tabled the proposal.

Controversy over the plan had drowned out the public schools’ other efforts at improving education, Harries said in an interview. He said the proposed deal got swallowed in the broader national debate over the role of charter schools.

“This began to threaten the foundation of school change, which is collaboration on behalf of kids,” Harries said.

[…]

Elm City Imagine began as an effort by Achievement First (AF) to design, with the help of the inventor of the computer mouse, an experimental K-8 school of the future. AF, which runs local charter schools such as Amistad Academy, planned to open Imagine in the fall as a K-1 at first, eventually expanding to fourth grade. Saying it couldn’t raise enough money privately to launch the school, AF negotiated a “partnership” with Harries under which New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) would provide $700 in cash and in-kind services per student for a school that AF would run and staff (not including the legally required contribution for transportation and special education services).

The proposed deal sparked intense opposition. Teachers began organizing against it. So did school administrators. Opponents lined up for hours at public meetings to blast the deal. They said it shifted needed money and autonomy to well-funded charters. They argued that the deal didn’t represent a true partnership—but rather the first step toward a private takeover of public schools.

You can read the full article at:  http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/charter_deal_canned/

You can read the earlier Wait, What? posts about the money grab at:

The “done deal” to divert scarce public funds to another Achievement First Inc. hits a road block

New Haven (& CT) Taxpayers to subsidize Achievement First’s corporate development plan?

Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven

Moales and Charter School Industry go down to crushing defeat in Bridgeport – Again

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Despite the support of Governor Malloy’s political operatives, including Bridgeport Mayor Finch and the ConnCAN/Achievement First Inc. charter school industry, pro-charter school candidate Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. couldn’t even muster enough voters to impact yesterday’s Special Election for a seat in the Connecticut State Senate.

The infamous Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. came in a distant 3rd place in yesterday’s Special Election collecting only 503 votes compared to the winner, Working Families Party candidate and former state senator Ed Gomes, who received 1,504.  The Democratic Party endorsed candidate Richard DeJesus, who Finch initially supported before turning to Moales, garnered 791 voters.

According to the Working Families Party, Ed Gomes becomes the first candidate in the country to win a legislative seat running only on the Working Families Party line.

Kenneth Moales Jr. has been one of the most outspoken supporters of Governor Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform Industry initiatives.

Moales was not only a leading champion of education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas but has been a major proponent of Steve Perry’s plan to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

The Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. sits on the Board of Directors for Perry’s charter school and was a lone voice on the Bridgeport Board of Education when the democratically-elected board asked the Malloy administration NOT TO approve Perry’s charter school application.

However, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his political appointees on the State Board of Education overlooked the position taken by the Bridgeport Board of Education and last spring and approved Perry’s plan to open a privately-owned but publicly-funded charter school in Bridgeport.

Although Governor Malloy’s proposed state budget actually cuts funding for public schools in Connecticut, the governor’s plan adds funding for four new charter schools in the state, including Steve Perry’s charter and one in Bridgeport that will be owned by an out-of-state company.

Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. previously served as Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer and his loss yesterday marks the fourth time in a row that Bridgeport voters rejected Finch and the charter school industry agenda.

Finch is up for re-election this fall and opposition to granting him another term is gaining steam.

Another effort to stamp out democracy in Bridgeport – What is it with Mayor Finch and the Charter School Industry?

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What is it with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Connecticut’s Charter School Industry?

We already know these people have a problem with democracy, but here we go again!

First Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and his Corporate Education Reform Industry allies persuaded Governor Malloy’s administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport School System.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ended up intervening and forcing the state of Connecticut to hand Bridgeport’s Schools back to the voters of Bridgeport.

As a result of Malloy’s illegal action, the Supreme Court even had to order a new election to fill the seats on Bridgeport’s democratically elected Board of Education.

But not to let a little thing like the law stand in the way, Bridgeport Mayor Finch and his supporters then tried to jam through a change in Bridgeport’s City Charter that would have completely eliminated a democratically elected Board of Education.

Mayor Finch’s solution was to replace democracy with a board of education appointed by him.

The Charter Revision campaign failed, but not before Finch and his Charter School buddies spent a record breaking amount of money.

Political Action Committees affiliated with the Corporate Education Reform Industry spent over $560,000 trying to convince Bridgeport voters to give up their democratic rights.

Major contributors to the anti-democracy campaign included the Charter School front group Excel Bridgeport ($101,803); Michele Rhee and the charter school advocacy group StudentsFirst ($185,480); Achievement First Bridgeport Chairman Andy Boas’ personal foundation ($14,000); ConnCAN ($14,000); Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment ($14,442); Pullman & Comely law firm ($7,000); Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($25,000); Achievement First and ConnCAN founder Jonathan Sackler ($50,000); and a who’s who of the Bridgeport’s business community.

After failing to persuade Bridgeport voters to hand their schools over to a non-elected Board of Education, Charter School Team Finch went on to lose both a Democratic Primary and the General Election for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

But apparently Finch and the Charter School elite that have been targeting Bridgeport over the past few years just won’t rest until they actually destroy democracy in Bridgeport

Their next target appears to be Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council, an organization that has been around for 45 years and has become a strong and effective voice for Bridgeport’s parents and students.

And an effective voice for parents is apparently just too much democracy and power for the Finch loyalists who are now engaged in an undemocratic strategy to derail this important vehicle for parent involvement in Bridgeport’s schools.

Late last Friday a “special notice” was sent out announcing that the Bridgeport Board of Education would be holding a “Special Meeting” to deal with the Bridgeport Parent Advisory Council tomorrow – Monday, February 23, 2015.

The notice for a special meeting comes despite the fact that the Bridgeport Board of Education already has a regular meeting scheduled for 6:30 P.M.

Issuing an updated agenda would have been easy enough, but the pro-charter school, anti-democracy crowd went with the “Special Meeting” tactic.

Why would they want a “Special Meeting” instead of taking up whatever clandestine effort they are going to attempt at the Bridgeport Board of Education’s regular Monday Meeting an hour and a half later?

Because under their rules, the public is not allowed an opportunity to speak to the Board of Education at Special Meetings, whereas at regular meetings public input is allowed.

No really…

While it appears true that we are called the United States of America where the notion of freedom and democracy is supposed to be among our most cherished fundamental and inalienable rights, but when it comes to the Charter School Industry’s agenda and tactics, nothing is sacred.

Apparently “simply” undermining democracy isn’t enough for the charter school advocates.

They are not only engaged in a strategy to undermine Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council, but they want to do it in a way that completely and utterly destroys the notion that Bridgeport’s parents even have Freedom of Speech or the right to be heard before their government takes action against them.

Adding further insult to the already absurd farce is that the “Special meeting” is scheduled for 5:00 PM, a time many parents and community members are still working or are busy fulfilling child raising duties and unable to make it to a hastily scheduled Board of Education Meeting.

The agenda for the “Special Meeting” is ominously entitled, “Discussion and Possible Action on District PAC Leadership.”

The agenda item being a not so hidden reference that the Board of Education may take “action” against Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council.

The entire development is just one more disgusting reminder that while we claim to be fighting the enemies of freedom abroad, some of the most serious threats to our American principles can be found right here at home.

If you happen to know Mayor Finch or his Charter School Allies…

Oh, never mind, it is no use talking to them, they simply don’t care about notions like democracy and Freedom of Speech.

And tomorrow they will try to prove that point yet again.

To them, the end always justifies the means and the Corporate Education Reform Industry won’t stop until they truly destroy public education in our country.

Here is to the hope that our fellow citizens in Bridgeport can fight back against the anti-democracy movement that is out to get them.

Charter School Renewal in CT: The Accountability Is Flexible (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

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Robert Cotto Jr. is the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives and Lecturer in the Educational Studies Program at Trinity College. He is also an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education and he writes for the blog; The Cities, Suburbs & Schools Project.

For the original of this post go to http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2015/02/21/charter-school-renewal-in-ct-the-accountability-is-flexible/

Charter School Renewal in CT: The Accountability Is Flexible (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Over the next few months, the public and Legislature will debate whether charter schools in Connecticut are sufficiently regulated or not. The State Department of Education and Board of Education will also decide whether or not to renew six (6) existing charter schools in Connecticut.

Already this legislative session, there is a bill for a moratorium on new charter schools and a review of existing ones. There are also proposals for more charter schools in CT. A missing aspect of this debate has been the existing charter school renewal process. This process merits more scrutiny because the firm “accountability” it promises is actually more flexible than advertised and it stands in contrast with how other public schools are treated by the State.

When Connecticut lawmakers initially allowed charter schools to operate in 1997, a major guiding principle was an exchange of “flexibility” for “accountability”. In other words, private non-profit “entities” receive public funds to operate public charter schools with permission to operate outside of various state and local laws, such as limited or no requirements for teacher certification and collective bargaining; but only if they met State educational goals. Charter school laws and guiding principles are similar around the country.

In 2014, the State’s charter school report claimed that, “Connecticut’s charter school law and accountability plan administered by CSDE require charter schools to demonstrate their success and compliance with the law in exchange for their charters.” In 2010, the report put it more directly as success and compliance, “in exchange for autonomy from local boards of education.”

This concept suggests that if charter schools don’t meet defined goals or state educational interests, they will face concrete, firm, and predictable consequences. The case of charter schools renewals, past and present, shows that the concept of “accountability” for “flexibility” is more theory than practice. Instead, when it comes to charter schools, the “accountability” is “flexible” and consequences do not come their way in a regular or predictable fashion.

For other public schools, the concrete goals usually mean some test-score target defined each year; and the firm, predictable consequences for not meeting those targets can mean mandatory state or local intervention in managing the school, firing most of the staff, or converting the school to a private management company, or a charter school. Examples of this “test and punish” approach throughout Connecticut include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Lewis Fox Middle School in Hartford was closed and later replaced with an Achievement First Charter School
  • Milner Elementary School in Hartford and Paul L. Dunbar School in Bridgeport were reconstituted and then operated by Jumoke/FUSE charter management corporation through the controversial “commissioner’s network”. This experiment ended with the demise of FUSE/Jumoke.
  • Last year the State of CT and Hartford Public Schools attempted to close Clark Elementary and replace it with an Achievement First-managed charter school, but that effort failed.

There is a different approach for charter school renewal and evaluation. Depending on the particular charter, the non-profit, private organizations that operate a public charter school must go through a  process to determine whether they can keep their charter or lose permission from the state to operate the school. This process happens every three to five years for each charter school. The process is a way to regulate all charter schools and make sure they are serving the goals of public education.

The process to renew a charter has multiple parts and extends over several months. The charter operator must first submit an application to the State Department of Education explaining their work, including areas such as students’ academic progress (interpreted by the state as standardized test results), curriculum, staff development, finances, and governance (management & administration) of the school.

Six schools will go through the charter renewal process this school year (2014/2015). Those schools include: (click on the school name link for the 2014/15 renewal applications.)

These aren’t new charter schools, but have enrolled children for ten to twenty years at this point. Having opened in 1997, Odyssey, Common Ground, and ISAAC were among the first state charter schools created in Connecticut.

Here’s a list from The CT Mirror for future charter school renewal years.

The next step is that the State Department of Education reviews the application and conducts a site visit to observe how a school operates compared to the description in their renewal application. A look into this process can be seen in this letter from CT SDE’s charter school program manager to administrators at the Common Ground High School in 2009, when the school was last up for a review. The letter shows some of the criteria for the charter renewal, which includes categories listed above, such as finance, test results, etc. If the school is meeting its goals and the educational interests of the state, then the State Board of Education can renew the school’s charter.

The state’s charter school law, specifically Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-66bb(g), outlines basic criteria that should guide the State Board of Education in deciding whether or not to renew a school’s charter. The criteria include, but are not limited to:

  • “student progress”,
  • administrative irresponsibility or misuse of public funds,
  • non-compliance with applicable state laws,
  • and failure to attract, enroll, and retain certain demographic groups such as students with disabilities and emerging bilingual children, identified as “English Language Learners.

It’s worth reading the CT charter school renewal law here.

The law leaves the door open for flexibility in this process. The text states that the State Board of Education “shall” (must) take into account the findings of a holistic, independent appraisal, but “may” (can) deny the application based on criteria in four categories, but not necessarily others. In short, the law does not require the State Board of Education to deny a charter renewal application for any particular reason, although it may do so.

In this way, lawmakers created loose rules in the charter renewal process. Like a judge may have discretion on a legal matter, or a psychologist uses clinical judgement, the CT State Department of Education reviews charter schools on a case by case basis and has a wide range of options in responding to their strengths and weaknesses. This provides administrative leeway or flexibility for state charter schools in Connecticut in the charter renewal process, but is contrary to this apparently strict mantra of “more accountability for more flexibility.”

Not included in the above section of charter school renewal law or the checklist are requirements to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation or other state laws. To that point, the very next section of the charter school law states:

(h) The Commissioner of Education may at any time place a charter school on probation if (1) the school has failed to

(A) adequately demonstrate student progress, as determined by the commissioner,
(B) comply with the terms of its charter or with applicable laws and regulations,
(C) achieve measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation, (continued…)

Finally, the state can revoke a charter at any time in cases of an emergency, or with written notice for failure in any of the areas listed above. The commissioner has to provide notice in writing about why she/he moved to revoke the charter. The law states:

(i) The State Board of Education may revoke a charter if a charter school has failed to:

(1) Comply with the terms of probation, including the failure to file or implement a corrective action plan;
(2) demonstrate satisfactory student progress, as determined by the commissioner;
(3) comply with the terms of its charter or applicable laws and regulations; or
(4) manage its public funds in a prudent or legal manner.

Even if the State Board of Education moves to revoke a charter, the “governing council”, or a charter school’s managing board, can provide an oral or written presentation to contest the State’s decision to revoke the charter and demonstrate compliance in areas deemed deficient.

Perhaps because of the flexibility in the charter renewal law, there have been times when charter schools have been renewed despite apparent examples of not meeting specified goals, the listed criteria in statute, or educational interests of the State. Another possibility is that the implementation of the policy has not been sufficiently discerning to identify major problems such as financial malfeasance or the mistreatment of children.

As a result of this flexibility, the state Board nearly always renews charters. Between 2010-2013, all 17 charter schools  in the state obtained a renewed charter from the State Board of Education, according to this list  from the CT Mirror. (excluding one that became an interdistrict magnet school) Non-charter public schools have not been so fortunate as they have had to follow strict federal and state rules and consequences, primarily on the basis of standardized test results. Since 2007, at least ten non-charter schools in Hartford, CT alone were closed or the staff fired on the basis of rigid test-based targets and subsequent punishments as outlined in state, federal, and local policy.

(Note: To my knowledge, there isn’t a list of all CT schools that have been closed, reconstituted, converted to charters, turn(ed) around, or restarted as a result of NCLB/RttT test-based accountability. If you know of a list, please share!)

Take the charter schools requirements to enroll representative populations of emerging bilingual students and students with disabilities and the reduction of racial and ethnic isolation. In my report with Kenny Feder, “Choice Watch,” over at CT Voices for Children, we reported that charter schools in CT tend to have smaller proportions of emerging bilingual children and children with disabilities when compared to local school districts, and are often more racially segregated than local school districts. Yet, no charter school was revoked because it didn’t include emerging bilingual students, children with disabilities, or because it was racially segregated, as state law would suggest.

When problems are found, the State Board of Education has often allowed schools to keep their charters rather than closing the school through a non-renewal. In some cases, the State board required more frequent review of charter schools, such as a renewal process after three years rather than five, for example. This scenario happened in 2007 with Common Ground and Odyssey Community School (due to poor test data) and Achievement First-Hartford in 2013 (due to excessive suspensions/special education/civil rights complaints). In other cases, schools received “probation” by the State Board of Education before a charter was revoked or non-renewed. Examples of this action included Highville/Mustard Seed (due to financial malfeasance) and Jumoke (due to financial malfeasance).

According to past and recent State Department of Education reports on the operation of charter schools, only five charter schools closed their doors since 1999. Three closed because of insufficient funds, despite the fact that the State Dept. of Education was required to review their financial plans before a charter was granted. Additionally, the CT State Board of Education shut down one charter school for health/safety violations and closed one charter school because of lack of academic progress.

Even relatively low test scores haven’t been a sufficient reason to deny a charter renewal. When its charter was renewed in 2012, Trailblazers Academy charter school had among the lowest aggregate test results in CT. By the rules of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Trailblazers had not met “Annual Yearly Progress” for six years.

Stamford Academy, which had among the lowest aggregate test results in 2013 is now in a similar situation this year as it faces a charter renewal process. (They are up for a renewal after only three years.) By 2010-11, Stamford Academy hadn’t made “Annual Yearly Progress” for five years.

(Note: Annual Yearly Progress was such a problematic measure that it was abandoned by the CT State and U.S. Federal Departments of Education in Connecticut’s 2012 waiver to parts of the NCLB Act.)

According to the logic of more “accountability” for more “flexibility”, shouldn’t these schools have lost their charters?

Despite not making AYP (the goal back then) and the State reporting this negative status, it is still unclear why these charter schools never faced the same sorts of clear, strict punishments as other public schools under NCLB. While the CT State Department of Education and State Board of Education delegated the responsibility of implementing NCLB sanctions to local districts for schools under local control, they apparently haven’t assumed that responsibility for schools under their own supervision in recent years.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, if these schools had been non-charter public schools, they would have been targeted for punishments such as firing the entire staff, notifying parents that they could choose to go to another school, closing the school, state takeover, conversion to charter schools, or taking away public governance in favor of private management. Ironically, Stamford Academy and Trailblazers were the end goal of No Child Left Behind – privately managed, publicly-financed state charter schools that parents chose to enroll their children, ostensibly to produce higher test scores. Yet, they were still amongst the most struggling academically and the state renewed their charters in 2012.

In defense of these schools, (Trailblazers, Stamford Academy, and others) perhaps they are offering educational benefits not captured by overall low test results. Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy enrolled high proportions of children that struggled in school. These schools also served a much more historically under-served group of children, mostly Black, Latino, low-income, and many more students with disabilities when compared to the more affluent Stamford Public Schools, which also have higher proportions of white students.

I am not advocating that Trailblazers and Stamford Academy should close because I don’t have enough information on either one to make a judgement, nor would closing the schools improve them. But I am pointing out that there have been two sets of rules when it comes to state “accountability”. Several years ago, Wendy Lecker also pointed to what appeared to be “double standards” in evaluating charter and other public schools in her column at The Stamford Advocate.

Let’s also consider what the renewal process has looked like for some of Connecticut’s charter schools that look better as measured by test score data. When its charter was renewed in 2012, the State touted Amistad Academy’s high test results compared to New Haven schools in 5th grade, and particularly for 8th grade students.

The state’s resolution on Amistad Academy noted that the school didn’t meet “Annual Yearly Progress” in the elementary grades, but did in the high school grades in 2010-11. But there didn’t appear to be any firm academic goals apart from the AYP metric, just general description of its test results and how they were better than the New Haven Public Schools overall. There was a presentation of test results with some narrative, particularly of the vertical scale scores offered as evidence in the final resolution to approve the charter renewal.

Undiscussed however, was the fact that the test participation data showed massive student attrition at Amistad Academy. In 2008, there were 76 students in grade 5, but there were only 53 students that matched that group in grade 8 in 2011. This was a loss of 30% of the student population from the original 76 students that started 5th grade in 2008.

So the high overall test results in 8th grade only accounted for 70% of the kids that stayed at the school-those students that took the standard CMT in math in both grade 5 and grade 8 at Amistad Academy. This attrition happened in CT and New Haven overall, but not to the same degree. Such attrition impacted the way the test results were interpreted (we are only looking at 70% of an already selected cohort) and the manner in which the test results were obtained (removing low-scoring or undesirable students can inflate results at this school and impact other local schools that later enroll these students). This attrition went unmentioned in the State Board’s renewal resolution despite one of the questions in the State checklist being, “Is there a high turnover of students?”

The State’s resolution, referencing the audit and site visit, also explained that the school lacked curricula in grades 3-8 science, K-12 health, physical education, and the arts. There were also problems with financial controls and safeguards between Achievement First, Inc, the private charter management corporation, and Amistad Academy, the public charter school; and many of the school’s teachers lacked proper state certification. The school was allowed to remedy, or begin fixing these deficiencies before their hearing at the State Board of Education, thus securing a renewed charter.

In Connecticut, there are laws against both excessive suspensions of students and racial/ethnic segregation of students, particularly for charter schools. [see above CGS Sec. 10-66bb(h)] But the renewal process for Amistad Academy ignored its exclusionary disciplinary policies, racial and ethnic segregation, and provided no analysis of representative populations of bilingual children and students with disabilities, among others. To be sure, these issues aren’t specified in the renewal checklist, but the school is required to follow applicable laws and regulations, including laws about students suspensions, special education rights, and racial and ethnic segregation, among others.  A year after the Amistad renewal, The CT Mirror and The Hartford Courant reported that Amistad Academy and its Achievement First affiliates had the highest numbers and rates of suspensions of children in CT. As Choice Watch reported, the school was (and still is) racially segregated, as well as most charter schools in CT.

Amistad Academy may be a school that people want their children to attend amidst the relative disinvestment, neglect, and mis-education of children of color in other schools. However, parent and families’ decisions about schools happen in the context of State over-investment and policy in favor of public school choice programs and under-investment in other public schools with high proportions of low income and Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino children.  This arrangement is a key feature of Connecticut educational policy, like other states. (See M. Apple, P. Lipman, & K. Buras writing on this issue.)

Regardless of Admistad Academy’s status, the State’s own charter renewal report documented educational concerns and overlooked substantial problems. It was not until then-State Child Advocate Jamey Bell intervened that the suspension information and the depth of the problem became known to the public, particularly throughout the Achievement First charter school chain. As a result of State and public pressure, Achievement First/Amistad has reportedly made improvements to its disciplinary policies; and lately the company has explored the idea of alternative methods in addition to its current “no excuses” schooling.

Like all schools, Amistad Academy has both its strengths and  weaknesses. Recognizing this point, the State’s charter renewal process has been flexible in its approach towards renewal and remediation of charter schools, instead of responding with rigid “accountability.” In addition to flexible, the state’s approach has also been selective in valuing particular types of “achievement” data first, and everything else after.

Accountability at Traditional Public Schools

In Connecticut, however, plenty of other non-charter public schools have similar groups of children as Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy charter schools, may need more support, and struggled on overall test results. Unlike these two charter schools, other public schools faced crude forms of high-stakes test accountability under federal, state, and local rules.

This flexible “accountability” stands in stark contrast to the regimented consequences that other public schools face under the No Child Left Behind Act, NCLB Waiver, and other high-stakes test accountability systems such as in Hartford, Connecticut. These systems outline firm, test-based numerical targets and emphasize clear punishments when the goals aren’t met, such as school closings, conversion to charter schools or private management. Unlike the charter renewal process, there are rarely second or third chances for other non-charter public schools, and excuses aren’t acceptable when it comes their “accountability” process.

So here’s a dilemma: Carefully implemented, the ability of  authorities to have administrative discretion (reviewing each school on a case by case basis) and assess schools holistically may be pragmatic and humane policy in some cases. In other cases, this flexibility can result in vague, selective accountability. It’s worth considering this local administrative judgement and holistic assessment in the context of all public schools. So I will explore this idea in a future post.

In the meantime, let’s watch this charter renewal process. The charter renewal process offers the possibility for people and groups to weigh in through letters to the State Department of Education, a public hearing for people to testify about the school’s work, and, ultimately, people can testify at the CT State Board of Education before a school’s charter is renewed.

The dates, times, and locations for the local public hearings on these charter school renewals are here and the chart is below. So take a look at the charter school applications and the process documents. In the meantime, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Is the State of Connecticut exercising sufficient oversight of charter schools through the renewal process? Is the law sufficient?
  • Are these charter schools meeting their goals and the educational interests of the State?
  • What evidence should be weighed in this process of charter renewal?
  • Can the holistic process of reviewing charter schools be applied to other public schools?

(Note: Comments are activated and you can now share this link with a “share it” button.)

 

Charter Renewal
Public Hearings 2014-15

School Name Dates Time Hearing Location
Robert Trefry

New Beginnings Family Academy

Tuesday
February 24, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Bridgeport City Hall
Common Council Chambers
45 Lyon Terrace

Bridgeport, CT 06604

Estela Lopez

Odyssey

Wednesday
February 25, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Howell Cheney Technical High Multi-Purpose Room

791 W. Middle Turnpike

Manchester, CT 06040

Stephen Wright

Stamford Academy

Thursday
February 26, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm J. M. Wright Technical
High School

Gymnasium
120 Bridge St.
Stamford, CT 06905
Charles Jaskiewicz

ISAAC

Tuesday
March 3, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern CT
Lecture Hall
490 Jefferson Avenue

New London, CT 06320

Allan Taylor

Explorations

Thursday
March 5, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Winsted Town Hall
P. Francis Hicks Room
338 Main Street
Winsted, CT 06098
Maria Mojica

Common Ground

Tuesday
March 10, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Wilbur Cross High School
Auditorium

181 Mitchell Drive

New Haven, CT 06511

– See more at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/?p=11615&preview=true#sthash.pXBOv16N.dpuf

 

 

The Biggest Winner in Malloy’s Budget – Charter Schools

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Let’s hear it for turning over our scarce public funds to the Corporate Education Reform Industry!

While Governor Dannel Malloy proposes to cut funding for Connecticut’s public schools, he miraculously finds that extra money needed to open four new privately-owned, but taxpayer-funded, charter schools.

Steve Perry, the out-going principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford has undoubtedly popped the champagne cork and is drooling at the prospect of collecting more than $10 million in “management fees” over the next five years when his private company opens Capital Prep Harbor Charter School in Bridgeport.

And the out-of-state company that plans to replicate its Bronx based charter school in Stamford must be equally as happy.

True the Bridgeport and Stamford Boards of Education had strongly opposed both charter schools and asked the Malloy administration NOT to approve them, but the “local control is crap” governor went ahead and funded the two charter schools anyway.

Malloy is so incredibly committed to the privatization of Connecticut’s public schools that he even added funding for two more charter schools despite the fact that there are no additional, approved charter school proposals even in the pipeline.

In total Malloy is proposing to add nearly 2,000 more seats for the charter school industry in Connecticut….more seats despite the fact that charter schools remain completely unaccountable for the way they use or misuse their public funds.

And as for Malloy’s budget speech covering up the biggest cuts to public education in history, Malloy said,

“We must maintain our commitment to funding public education. While other states may choose to balance their budgets on the backs of public schools, Connecticut will not,” Malloy told legislators during his budget address. “I will not sign a budget that is balanced on the backs of our towns or our public schools.”

George Orwell and Franz Kafka would be proud!

[Of course, since the Common Core frowns on so-called fiction, our children won’t even be learning about how books like 1984 and The Trial foretold the coming of the political environment that is sweeping across our nation.]

The “done deal” to divert scarce public funds to another Achievement First Inc. hits a road block

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At last night’s New Haven Board of Education meeting, New Haven Board of Education President Carlos Torre and member Alicia Caraballo, “peppered proponents with skeptical questions and declared themselves unprepared to vote yet” on the plan to divert even more New Haven and Connecticut taxpayer funds to Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company with operations in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Of course, the corporate education reform industry won’t withdraw without a fight and will be relying on New Haven Mayor Toni Harp to line up the votes in favor of the project known as Achievement First Elm City Imagine.

As documents have revealed, getting public funds for the school is part of Achievement First Inc.’s corporate expansion plan.

New Profit, Inc., a financial group that invests in Achievement First Inc. and other private companies associated with the education reform industry, told investors in their annual report last year that, “Over the next five years, Achievement First plans to grow to a network of 38 schools serving more than 12,000 students.”

Achievement First Inc.’s expansion plan to become one of the largest charter school chains in the country actually goes back to before Achievement First Inc. co-founder and board member Stefan Pryor left Achievement First, Inc. to become Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

With Pryor serving as Commissioner of Education from 2012 through last month, Achievement First Inc.’s revenue from the State of Connecticut skyrocketed.

Over the past six years, Achievement First Inc. has dramatically expanded its operations in Connecticut and has seen New Haven as particularly fertile ground for their privatization efforts.

Two Achievement First Inc. employees or operatives are actually members of the New Haven Board of Education and Mayor Toni Harp, who sits on the Board of Education and appoints its members, also sits on one of Achievement First Inc.’s Board of Directors.

Adding to Achievement First Inc.’s political might is the fact that New Haven Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries and his leadership team are strong proponents of the Corporate Education Reform Industry agenda in general and Achievement First Inc. in particular.

Before arriving in New Haven, Harries worked as top official in the New York City Department of Education where he “led the creation of new school opportunities.” In that capacity Harries was responsible for the development of 63 new charter schools in New York City, including some of the notorious Success Charter Schools run by Eva Moskowitz.

Prior to taking the job in New York, Harries worked for McKinsey & Company, a leading education reform industry consulting company.

Harries received his “superintendent training” as a member of the 2009 class of the Broad Academy, the corporate education reform foundation that is funded by billionaire Eli Broad who is one of the three largest donors behind the education reform movement, along with Bill Gates and the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame.

The new Chief Financial Officer for the New Haven School System, Victor De La Paz, is another graduate of the Broad Academy and Siddhartha Chowdri, who is presently a Broad Academy’ resident was placed by the Broad Foundation in New Haven to help De La Paz.

Victor De La Paz took a leadership role at last night’s board meeting in trying to persuade the members of the New Haven Board to approve the Achievement First Inc. agreement.

CFO De La Paz was backing up Superintendent Harris who has been the leading advocate behind the effort to divert New Haven and Connecticut taxpayers funds to Achievement First Inc.’s new “experimental school.”

According to the New Haven Independent,

“Last week, Harries released a draft of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) delineating the terms of the proposed agreement between AF and the district. The district would provide $700 in cash and in-kind services per student for a school that AF would run and staff—not including the legally required contribution for transportation and special education services…”

The newspaper further explains that,

The proposal “will cost New Haven Public Schools $202,000 in year one and ramp up to $459,000 after year 4 (excluding special education and transportation as required by law)”

Since nearly two-thirds of New Haven’s local education budget is paid for by the state of Connecticut, the diversion of public funds to the privately run Achievement First Inc. would mean state taxpayers would actually be paying for the majority of the proposed give-a-way program.

Among those raising concerns about the Achievement First Inc. project during the public portion of last night’s meeting were Dave Cicarella, the President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers and Keisha Hannans of the New Haven School Administrators Association.

Teachers have not been allowed to unionize at Achievement First Inc. schools and without collective bargaining rights, teachers working for Achievement First Inc. schools have reported that the company has violated some of the most basic rights that are given to employees working in public schools.

Read more at New Haven Independent’s article about last night’s New Haven Board of Education meeting at: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/torre_caraballo_demand_details_before_imagine_vote/

Malloy on Corporate Education Reform Agenda – “stay the course” “even if [policies] aren’t that popular”

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NBC Connecticut political reporter Max Reiss sat down with Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy for an interview today about Malloy’s budget speech tomorrow.  It will be televised during this evening’s news.

Following the interview, the NBC reporter Tweeted;

On education, @GovMalloyOffice said he plans to “stay the course” with policies & most funding “even if some aren’t that popular right now.”

Okay Teachers Unions – American Federation of Teachers – CT Chapter and Connecticut Education Association – now would be a good time to explain how you “took him to the woodshed” and got him to change his massive anti-teacher, pro-charter school, pro-Common Core Testing, anti-public school agenda in return for your endorsement and help getting him the votes he needed to win re-election last November.

A Democratic Governor stays “all in” with the corporate education reform industry despite endorsements from the AFT and NEA affiliates in the state!  Samuel Gompers, John Lewis, Eugene Debs, Walter Reuther and many others are rolling over in their graves.

Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven

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[This is the first in a series of articles about Achievement First Inc.’s proposed New Haven Elm City Imagine School]

Aka – The Charter School Industry’s step by step dismantling of public education in Connecticut.

This Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Governor Malloy will play his hand as to whether he will insert taxpayer funds into next year’s state budget in order to fund Steve Perry’s dream of opening a privately-owned, but publicly-funded charter school in Bridgeport.  An out-of-state company is also counting on Malloy to come through with the cash needed to expand their charter school chain into Stamford, Connecticut.

Both charter school applications were vehemently opposed by the Bridgeport and Stamford Boards of Education.

However, despite that opposition from the local officials responsible for education policy and despite the fact that Connecticut doesn’t even fund its existing public schools adequately and the fact that the State of Connecticut is facing a massive $1.4 billion projected budget deficit next year, Governor Malloy’s former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education approved four new charter school proposals last spring.

Initial funding for two of the four applications was included in this year’s state budget, New Haven’s Booker T. Washington charter school and yet another charter school for Bridgeport.

Now the charter school industry is counting on Malloy to divert even more scarce public funds away from the state’s public schools so that Steve Perry can start pulling in a $2.5 million management fee from a charter school in Bridgeport and the out-of-state company can open up a revenue stream from a new charter school in Stamford.

While most public education advocates are focused on the Malloy administration’s ongoing attempt to privatize public education via policies at the state level, the politically connected Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain is using a completely different approach as it seeks to pull off a deal in New Haven that would shift existing funds away from New Haven’s public schools and into the coffers of the Achievement First operation.

Of course, Achievement First Inc. is the charter school chain founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s former commissioner of education.

Achievement First Inc. is also the charter school chain that gets the lion’s share of the $100 million in public funds that are already diverted to charter schools in Connecticut.

Achievement First’s latest gambit is called the Elm City Imagine School.  Achievement First already owns and operates the following taxpayer-funded New Haven Charter Schools;

Amistad Academy Elementary School

Amistad Academy Middle School

Amistad Academy High School

Elm City College Preparatory Elementary School

Elm City College Preparatory Middle School

Achievement First Inc. also owns charter schools in Hartford, New Haven, New York City and Rhode Island.

With the New Haven proposal, Achievement First, Inc. is attempting to side-step the entire state charter school authorization process.  They are trying to use a mechanism whereby state and local taxpayer funds would be allocated by the New Haven Board of Education directly to Achievement First’s new “experimental school.”

The only hurdle that Achievement First Inc. needs to overcome is getting the approval of the New Haven Board of Education…and it appears that they are well on the way to do just that as early as their February 23, 2015 meeting.

The New Haven Board has scheduled a second and final public hearing on the proposal tomorrow, Tuesday 2/17 at 5:30, nicely timed to take place during school vacation.

The New Haven Board of Education is not democratically elected by the citizens of New Haven.  It is one of the only boards of education in Connecticut to be appointed by the mayor of the community.

In this case, the New Haven Board of Education is appointed by Mayor Toni Harp – who, thanks to an earlier sweetheart deal – happens to sit on the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors for the Amistad Academy schools.

Another member of the New Haven Board of Education is Alex Johnston who is the former CEO of ConnCAN.  Johnston now, “develops and implements strategies for philanthropists on education reform advocacy and political initiatives.”

ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy group that is not only associated with Achievement First Inc. but it is the entity that led the record-breaking $6 million dollar lobbying campaign in support of Malloy’s 2012 Corporate Education Reform Initiative.

ConnCAN is also the charter school advocacy group that recently held a rally on the New Haven Green to “save kids trapped in local failing public schools.

And ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy group that was created by Jonathan Sackler, who is the multi-millionaire who played such a pivotal role in helping Stefan Pryor with the creation of Achievement First Inc.

Sackler now serves on the Board of Directors for Achievement First Inc.  and the Board of Directors for ConnCAN

Most recently, Sackler and his family were the largest contributors to Malloy’s re-election effort, pumping well over $100,000 into the various committees that paid for the Governor’s campaign activities.

Achievement First’s Elm City Imagine

Achievement First’s Elm City Imagine (designed to become a K-4 school) will be Achievement First Inc.’s initial foray into the “Greenfield” model. The model designed with the help of the inventor of the computer mouse.”

Achievement First Inc. is also using public funds to insert the “Greenfield Model” into its Elm City College Prep Middle School.

Among the many controversies associated with this new proposal is that Achievement First Inc. has successfully prevented the unionization of its schools and is now looking to use even more public funds to hire employees who would have no collective bargaining rights.

Achievement First Inc. is also notorious for relying on Teach For America recruits in an effort to promote the churning of staff to keep expenses down and limit the likelihood of unionization.

Alex Johnston, the former ConnCAN CEO who and member of the New Haven Board of Education is quoted as saying

“We need statewide policies that allow educational innovations like Teach for America or Dacia’s schools [The Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain] to spread far and wide.”

[Article Update at 3pm 2/16/15 – Johnston has announced the due to the conflict of interest he will not be voting on application, although it doesn’t change much considering the political dynamics surrounding the project.]

Of course, Achievement First Inc. also made national news when it was reported that their “zero-tolerance” discipline policies led to an extraordinary number of kindergartners being suspended.

Check back for the next installment of this series.

You can also read more about the Achievement First Inc. plan via the following New Haven Independent articles;

Teachers, Parents Organize Against Charter Deal

The School Of The Future Gets A Dry Run
Teachers Union Prez Pens “Imagine” Critique
Charter Plans Detailed; Parents Weigh In
Elm City Imagine Sparks Debate
NHPS, AF Team Up On Experimental School
Elm City Charter Eyed For Futuristic “Conversion”
City’s Charter Network Hires San Francisco Firm To Design The K-8 Public School Of The Future

 

Mayor Finch shifts to Reverend Moales in Bridgeport Special State Senate Election

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Although the Bridgeport political operation connected with Governor Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch orchestrated the nomination of State Representative Richard DeJesus to run in the February 24th Special Election for the vacant State Senate seat in Bridgeport, the Mayor and his team are in the process of shifting sides and will now be focusing their collective efforts to elect the Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. to the Connecticut State Senate.

On Friday Mayor Bill Finch urged the nominee, Richard DeJesus, to drop out of the state Senate race.

In addition to DeJesus, who is the Democratic nominee in the race, the other major contenders are former State Senator Edwin Gomes, who is the Working Families Party candidate and former Board of Education Chairman Reverend Kenneth Moales, Jr. who is Finch’s former campaign treasurer.

Apparently Finch’s most recent political maneuver is due to the establishment’s growing concern that DeJesus has been damaged by the news that he owes at least $139,433 in personal property taxes and at least $35,700 in back child support.

But the Malloy/Finch operation was already covering their bets over the last few weeks, with Finch’s chief of staff and other key Finch allies providing donations to Moales so that he could qualify for a taxpayer funded campaign finance grant.

A review of Moales campaign finance report reveals that he has the full support of Connecticut’s Charter School Industry and many of the individuals and organizations that paid for the record-breaking lobbying campaign behind Malloy’s education reform agenda and Mayor Finch’s failed charter revision effort to do away with a democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.

Over the past three years, Kenneth Moales Jr. has been one of the most outspoken supporters of Malloy’s corporate educate reform efforts.  Moales was also the head cheerleader for Paul Vallas and Moales serves on the Board of Directors for Steve Perry’s proposed charter school in Bridgeport.

In fact, while the Bridgeport Board of Education was taking the unprecedented step of asking Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and State Board of Education to reject Steve Perry’s application to open a charter school in Bridgeport, saying it was contrary to educational goals of the City of Bridgeport, Moales was busy supporting the application, all while serving on Perry’s charter school board.

The notion that it is DeJesus’ financial troubles that has scared off Finch and company is rather absurd considering the far more serious financial, legal and ethical problems surrounding Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr.

Although Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. claims to be a millionaire, he has been fighting off a series of lawsuits since 2011 for defaulting on about $8 million in loans that he took out to build his Bridgeport Church and renovate a home owned by his mother.

In September 2012, Reverend Moales caused a car accident in New Haven that injured the driver of the other car.  At the time of the accident Moales with driving an unregistered Mercedes Benz owned by his church.

A year later, in September 2013, an arrest warrant was issued for Reverend Moales for failure to appear for a ticket he had received for speeding and driving another unregistered vehicle, this time a Cadillac Escalade which was also owned by his church.

In response to a CT Post article about the arrest, Moales took to Twitter proclaiming,

“CT POST NEEDS readers! I must stay focused, Ignore the Critics & Solve The Real Problems! We are doing a good work & WE WILL NOT COME DOWN!!!”

Moales also owes more than $10,000 in local property taxes and allegedly owes back payroll taxes to the State of Connecticut as well.

Three daycare centers owned by the Moales family and that rent space from Moales’ church was caught double-billing for state funded daycare slots last year and forced to pay back approximately $70,000 in ill-gotten gains

The Moales family daycare centers also put dozens of children in rooms that didn’t meet fire code and didn’t have the required permits including a certificate of occupancy for the building itself.

And the list goes on…

And on…

But as incredible as it seems, Kenneth Moales Jr’s pattern of financial, legal and ethical neglect haven’t stopped Connecticut’s charter school industry from funding his campaign…A campaign that apparently now has the support of Mayor Bill Finch and the forces loyal to Governor Malloy.

You can find out more about this developing story at the Only in Bridgeport Blog – http://onlyinbridgeport.com/wordpress/icky-for-ricky-dejesus-says-hell-resign-city-council-seat-finch-tells-him-to-drop-state-senate-bid/ and the CT Post at http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/DeJesus-has-campaign-cash-but-also-troubles-6080248.php

Forces behind effort to eliminate democratically elected Bridgeport Board of Education donate to Kenneth Moales Jr.

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Let’s hear it for less democracy!

Just days before the voters of Bridgeport overwhelmingly defeated Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s bizarre 2012 proposal to eliminate the democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by the Mayor, millionaire charter school champion Jonathan Sackler quietly wrote a personal check for $50,000 to help pay for the final set of mailings and advertisements designed to persuade Bridgeport voters to give up their right to vote for those who oversee their City’s public schools.

Now Jonathan Sackler and many of the same pro-charter, anti-public education, pro-corporate elite are pumping money into Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr.’s campaign for State Senate with the goal of helping Moales qualify for a taxpayer-funded state campaign grant that he would use to pay for his campaign in the February 24th 2015 state senate special election.

It won’t come as any surprise to those who have watched the ongoing effort to undermine and denigrate the people of Bridgeport that the very same individuals and groups that worked so hard to take away democracy in Bridgeport and keep Paul Vallas in charge of Bridgeport’s schools are now working overtime to put Moales – a Malloy/Finch ally and disgraced former chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education – into the Connecticut State Senate.

The corporate elite, education reform industry and charter school advocates know that Kenneth Moales Jr. will be a safe vote for their anti-public education agenda, even if it means hurting the people of Bridgeport.

Jonathan Sackler, whose pharmaceutical company makes OxyContin, is a founding member of Achievement First, Inc., the large Charter School Management Company with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Sacker is also the corporate education reform industry advocate who formed ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group.  Sackler was one of the largest donors to Finch’s anti-democracy effort and now he tops the list for Moales as well.

Another key player for Moales is Andy Boas, the Chairman of the Board for Achievement First – Bridgeport, a member of the ConnCAN Board of Directors and the founder of The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation.  In 2012 Boa was also one of the largest contributors to Finch’s campaign to do away with an elected school board in Bridgeport.

And now Boas and his wife, like Sacker and his wife, have both donated the maximum amount to Moales’ campaign.

In total, more than half a dozen of Moales’ largest campaign contributions have come from members of the Achievement First, Inc. or ConnCAN Boards of Directors.

Yet another major player in Finch’s failed charter revision effort was Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate funded education reform group that lobbied for the illegal state takeover of Bridgeport’s schools and then dumped more than $101,000 to support of Finch’s charter revision effort to do away with a democratically elected board of education.  Excel Bridgeport’s founder, Megan Lowney, who is also one of Malloy’s political appointees, recently gave Moales the maximum donation allowed under law.

Others who helped pay for Finch’s failed anti-democracy campaign and are now stepping up with donations for Moales’ campaign include;

Paul Vallas and his wife (now re-located back to Illinois)

Robert Trefrey

Trefrey is the former President/CEO of Bridgeport Hospital.  Trefrey chaired the illegal board that was handed control of Bridgeport’s schools by Governor Malloy’s administration.  When the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Malloy’s attempt to take over the Bridgeport Schools was illegal, Malloy appointed Trefrey to the State Board of Education’s Committee that oversees the state’s technical high schools.  Bridgeport Hospital gave Finch’s charter revision campaign the maximum allowable donation, even at a time it was laying off staff.  Trefrey has not given Moales the maximum allowable contribution.

Jeremiah Grace

Grace is the Connecticut State Director of the Northeast Charter School Network.  The organization not only lobbies for more charter schools but helps private charter school management companies develop applications to get public funds.

Lee Bollert

Bollert was an education advisor to Mayor Bill Finch and helped create Excel Bridgeport, Inc.

William McCullough

McCullough serves with Moales on the Board of Directors of Steve Perry’s proposed Bridgeport charter school.

Kadisha Coates 

Coates is a charter school advocate, member of Families for Excellent Schools and is the newest member of the Bridgeport Board of Education. Coates and her husband are both donors to Moales.

Liz Torres

Torres is a member of the Great Oaks Charter School Board of Directors.

Joshua Thompson

Thompson is the former Finch aide and Vallas assistant who posted on his on-line resume that he was the Deputy Mayor for Education in Bridgeport, even though he was no such thing. Thomson is now an executive New Leaders Fund, a corporate education reform advocacy group in New York City.  Brandon Clark, who ran on the Finch slate for Board of Education with Moales in 2013 but lost, also works with the New Leaders Fund with Thompson and also recently donated to Moales’ campaign.

Other Moales donors include a number of employees, lobbyists and consultants associated with ConnCAN, Achievement First, Inc. and other charter schools organizations in Hartford, New Haven and out-of state.

In order to get the full taxpayer funded grant of Moales has filed the paperwork to get a state taxpayer funded grant.  In order to get the money he must raise a total of $11,250, of which 225 must come from people living in Bridgeport or Stratford.  Depending on the number of signatures collected, Moales could receive a public grant of up to $71,000

Although Moales submitted the paperwork to get a grant last Friday, a review of his public financing report reveals a variety of problems and suspicious donations that could prevent him from qualifying for the public funding.

Note:  A special thanks to Maria Pereira who also researched Moales’ recent campaign finance report and provided her findings to the “Only in Bridgeport” blog.

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